Hillsboro Board Prepares For Coffeen Transition

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Continuing a discussion about transitioning Coffeen School to a pre-K center and sending all grade school students to Beckemeyer beginning next school year, the Hillsboro School Board talked about staff changes at the Hillsboro elementary school to handle the new students at their meeting on Tuesday, March 10.

The plan is to add one first grade and one fourth grade classroom at Beckemeyer to keep larger class sizes manageable, move from 20 aides at Beckemeyer to 25, and turn the two computer labs at Beckemeyer to special ed classrooms.

"We would also have a full-time nurse since we will have all of our elementary kids in one building," Superintendent David Powell said, noting that currently the elementary nurse splits time between Beckemeyer and Coffeen.  The same would be true of a music teacher, art teacher, and PE teacher, Beckemeyer Principal Zach Frailey added.

After a closed session at the end of the meeting, the board dismissed two teachers effective at the end of the school year, Rachel Garde and Brittany Clavin, and one teachers’ aide, Tabatha Hamilton, due to reduction in force.  

They also accepted letters of intent to retire from aides Maribeth Rahe and Patty Holshouser, and from cook Marcella Kimbro.  They accepted a letter of resignation from teacher Adam Haston, approved volunteer fishing team coach Dennis Loskot, and tabled the re-employment of fall sports coaches.

The board accepted the low asbestos abatement bid of $75,800 from Triple A of Pana, the lowest of six bids and below the estimated $80,000 cost to replace floor tile at both Beckemeyer and Coffeen School.

At the recommendation of district maintenance supervisor Fred Butler, the board approved a price not to exceed $37,443 for new motorized bleachers to replace those on the stage at the high school.  Funds will come from the school facilities sales tax.

"The metal ones there now are getting pretty rickety," board President Greg Bellaver said, "and there are no aisles–you have to walk up the bleachers."

The board also took Butler's recommendation–based on research done by administrators Zach Frailey and Michelle Reeves–to purchase new playground equipment at Beckemeyer to replace current worn-out equipment. Some of that equipment can no longer be used, Butler said, because replacement parts are unavailable.  

The projected lifespan for the new equipment, in answer to a question by board member Bryce Rupert, is 25 years.  The cost is $80,080 including $25,000 for installation; the second number was especially difficult for board members to swallow.  Those funds, too, will come from the school facilities sales tax.

"The last playground equipment," board member and former Beckemeyer Principal Earl Meier pointed out, "was paid for by the parent-teacher organization."

The board also approved transportation director Adam Gregg's recommendation to purchase two new gasoline Bluebird 77-passenger busses for $97,206 each, and two new gasoline Bluebird 83-passenger busses for $99,505 each from Central State Bus Sales of Fenton, MO.  The cost includes six trade-ins, reducing the Hillsboro School District fleet from 34 to 32 busses.

The purchase cost will come from the Transportation Fund.

"We've had really good luck with our gasoline Bluebird busses," Gregg said of his recommendation of gasoline units in favor of diesels. He estimates saving $18,000 over the life of a gasoline bus compared to a diesel considering the cost of fuel, electricity and maintenance.

During the meeting, the board conducted a public hearing to sell $2.5 million in working cash bonds.  As in recent years, the board has used working cash funds to shore up deficits in other funds, primarily the Education Fund.  There were no comments during the brief hearing.

At the recommendation of curriculum director Hope McBrain, the board added a "do-it-yourself 2" dual credit course at Hillsboro High School, following up on the new course offered this year and taught by Tony Marcolini.  If Lincoln Land Community College does not approve the course for college credit, it will still be offered at the high school.

The board also approved McBrain's recommendation of a "music in America" dual credit high school course for students not necessarily in choir or band. Choir teacher Amy Lemons has already been approved to teach the class for Lincoln Land college credit, and the only cost would be an LLCC-required text book.

McBrain, Coffeen Principal Marci Gutierrez, school psychologist Amanda Cunningham and her intern Lucas Altenberger spent several minutes pitching the idea of "social emotional learning" in the school district to impact academic success, social behavior, and emotional distress.

"We'll be asking for your approval next month," Powell told board members.

Cunningham said data for the need for the program comes from an SIU School of Medicine research project in partnership with Hillsboro Area Hospital, and a screening survey for students grades three though 12.  Those surveys showed that more than a fourth of the students in each school need social emotional support.

Some programs have already been begun in each school, including two speakers this school year.

Their solution? A new "choose love" curriculum developed in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012.  McBrain said it's used in all 50 states, "and the best part is that it's free."

Gutierrez said the curriculum is for students of all levels–pre-K through grade 12.

The curriculum focuses on courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion, and includes lessons on character education, positive psychology, mindfulness, neuroscience and emotional intelligence. To learn more, parents may visit jesselewischooselove.org.

To help accommodate the new consortium with Litchfield, Nokomis, and Panhandle, the board agreed to a common school calendar with those districts that starts school on Aug. 17 for students next fall.  For teachers, work begins on Thursday, Aug. 13.

Christmas vacation begins on Dec. 18, and classes resume for students on Jan. 5.  If all five pre-planned weather days are used, the last day of school next year will be May 28.

To begin the meeting, two members of the Hillsboro Junior High School Student Council presented board members with note pads and pens "to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of school board members."

Gutierrez told board members that a grant will fund a field trip for pre-K students, and that the process of transitioning Coffeen School to a pre-K center next school year is "off to a good start."

The board renewed its annual membership in the Illinois High School Association for 2020-21; as usual, membership dues are waived.

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